Fixing the birth-through-grade 3 care and education system requires streamlining disparate programs and funding sources, and a renewed focus on high-quality interactions between young children and the adults around them, says a report issued Tuesday by the Washington-based New America Foundation.
The policy brief, “Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education,” includes eight overarching recommendations, and within each are steps that can be taken by federal and state lawmakers, school districts, teachers, and principals.
For example, Congress could make a big difference by moving to reauthorize the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Child Care Development Block Grant, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Head Start Act, the brief states. But these renewals should be done with an eye toward recognizing that the goals of these programs often overlap, said Laura Bornfreund, the deputy director of the foundation’s Early Education Initiative and a co-author of the policy brief.
“Title I funds can be used beginning at birth, so of course there’s going to be potential for overlap between Title I and Head Start and IDEA,” Bornfreund said in an interview. Both Head Start and IDEA include funding for infants and toddlers. Title I provides federal money to schools to serve children from low-income families.
“Rather than having separate streams of funding, they should be thought about in a much more coordinated way to really serve those children,” Bornfreund said.
Other recommendations in the brief:
Offer funding for Head Start to states that will promise to meet criteria for program quality and access, rather than the current system which provides money to grantees and bypasses state control. Also, Congress should consider moving Head Start to the U.S. Department of Education’s office of early learning. Bornfreund said these moves could strengthen the 50-year-old program that serves about a million children from birth to 5, while continuing Head Start’s focus not just on academic readiness, but on whole-child development.
Replace K-5 or K-6 teaching licenses with at least two different licenses; one that covers the early years from pre-K to 3rd grade, and a second license that starts at 3rd or 4th grade and continues through the middle grades. Such a license would help ensure that the teachers in the early grades would receive training in the unique needs of younger children, Bornfreund said.
Create a common kindergarten-entry assessment and accompanying K-3 formative assessments. Half of the states are already in the process of creating or implementing these assessments, which teachers give to students soon after they start kindergarten in order to see what the students know, and to guide instruction during the kindergarten year.
These types of tests have engendered some controversy from those who are worried they could be used to make high-stakes decisions about teachers or preschools.
But “assessment shouldn’t be a bad word,” Bornfreund said. "[Kindergarten entry assessments] provide information to policy makers and even can inform, if information is shared, the pre-K that those students came from. It can be a useful tool when used appropriately.”
The policy brief is a followup to “Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession,” which the foundation released in January.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.